You would suspect this recipe was a great success, if you heard the noises I made eating it. But, I was very hungry, suffering the effects of moderate food consumption, otherwise known as starvation. So, it's no surprise that I loved this soup. But, Bob began making his own noises of satisfaction, and enthusiastically exclaimed, "This is good." So I knew my pitiful state of deprivation hadn't misled me. This superb soup comes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and good as that compendium may be, a glance at the recipe wouldn't lead you to expect it was going to be this fabulous. It just goes to show, you never know how the flavors will play out.
I've always loved basil with asparagus, so I altered the recipe a bit, adding some of it. I seem to be on a basil kick. It was my featured herb last week too. The asparagus and basil are so plentiful right now, with the advent of spring. Soon, it will be summer, which brings the ultimate combination, tomatoes and basil. I always plant a lot of it, which I often regret when it runs riot in my garden, needing to be pruned constantly. This basil recipe is for Weekend Herb Blogging, which has returned home to Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen. Check out her Roundup, to see all the herby recipes.
I was confused by the photo of the soup in the book. It appeared as if sweet red peppers had been added to the soup, but the recipe didn't include them. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea and wound up adding a small amount to the soup. Later, I realized the red cubes were the cubes of pancetta, which were much redder than mine. So, if you want to be authentic, leave out the basil and the red pepper.
By the way, I'm having some computer problems, so if I disappear for a few days, rest assured I'll be back!
Asparagus & Rice Soup With Pancetta And Basil
(Adapted from Judy Rodgers,The Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups diced yellow onions
1/2 cup white rice ( I used arborio, but you can use what ever type you like)
about 7 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
16 ounces asparagus, woody ends removed
I/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (optional)
6 ounces pancetta, finely minced
freshly cracked black pepper
a handful of fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
Heat 3 Tablespoons of the oil in a heavy pot over medium-low heat and cook the onions slowly , with a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally, The onions shouldn't color, just cook them until they are soft and translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Then add the stock, rice and water and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
As the rice is cooking, slice the asparagus on the diagonal, about 1/8 inch thick. It's OK if the slices aren't precise.
Warm the remaining oil in a large skillet or over medium heat, and cook the pancetta until the edges begin to color a bit. Scrap it out, leaving the oil behind. Spread the asparagus and bell pepper in the skillet and stir to cover with the oil, then press it down to cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until it begins to color and shrink a little. It took me about 3 minutes to get the asparagus to a point where it was lightly colored, and cooked to a state almost like al dente. It wasn't mushy and had a bit of resistance. Put the asparagus and peppers into the soup, scatter the basil into the pot and stir. Serve immediately.